Monte Kohler tried to get out of the way, but he blames his old age.
The 33-year O’Dea High School football coach with the second-most wins in state history behind one Tumwater legend was doused as the final seconds ticked off the clock in a 38-11 victory over Rainier Beach for the 3A state title on Friday in the Tacoma Dome.
And it took Kohler back 22 years to his last state title and last championship bath. And wiped clean the stench of last year’s title-game loss.
“In my younger days I might have been able to get out of the way,” Kohler said. “Back then, though, they really got me. I didn’t see it coming. But these guys weren’t very good at it.”
He’ll take them being very good at football.
He said these past two weeks were the best team football he’s seen in his O’Dea tenure, and he’s seen some good football and good running backs. Just three years ago he had Myles Gaskin in the backfield and Gaskin is now setting records at the University of Washington.
But how about this year’s running back – Jamyn Patu?
Patu ran for 272 yards and two touchdowns in the win as the TNT all-state running back ended his senior season with 248 carries for 2,193 rushing yards and 28 TDs.
He might not quite have Gaskin’s burst, but his tough running on Friday was 25 yards shy of former O’Dea back Johri Fogerson’s Gridiron Classic record of 297 yards in the 2007 title loss to Skyline.
“Honestly, I could still play another game,” Patu said. “I feel great. So much energy.
“It feels so complete. And with this group of boys, it feels great. It’s even more special. It felt like unfinished business last year and it feels great.”
Rainier Beach, which was playing in its first state football championship game, fumbled on the opening kick off and O’Dea recovered. Patu capped the drive with a 16-yard TD run.
He had a 55-yard run against his former team on the Fighting Irish’s next drive before Connor Gregoire capped it with another TD run.
“He’s tough. He’s a physical kid. He makes people miss. He’s special,” Kohler said. “He’s a special kid and he loves to play and he’s a great teammate. He’s the guy who stirs our little thing and makes us go.”
And Kohler said he was hoping this game would finally get Patu an offer to play college football.
“We came in knowing we had to execute,” Patu said. “No matter what team it was.”
Patu gave O’Dea (12-1) a 31-3 lead with his one-yard TD run with 9:37 remaining in a game that wasn’t quite as close as the 23-21 season-opening win at Husky Stadium against Lincoln.
O’Dea had a chance to win last year’s championship with eight seconds remaining in regulation, but kicker Stephen Powell missed a 21-yard field goal and the Fighting Irish would lose to Kamiakin in overtime.
But full circle: Powell hit the game-tying 22-yard field goal in O’Dea’s eventual overtime win in last week’s semifinal win over No. 1 Bellevue – a team Kohler had met in two previous state championship losses. And Powell hit a 44-yard field goal in Saturday’s all-Metro League state championship.
It’s Kohler’s fourth state title, trailing only former Bellevue coach Butch Goncharoff’s 11 titles (though the WIAA forced Bellevue to vacate two of those this year – for most in 3A state tournament history. He’s got the second-most wins in state history (324-53 in 33 seasons) behind former Tumwater coach Sid Otton (394-132 in 49 seasons).
Kohler has been to nine championships, now. But O’Dea’s last title came in 1995 over Prosser.
“It’s special because it’s been a spell,” Kohler said. “Twenty-two years – and you’re young and dumb and you think you get it and it comes easy, but because they don’t give them away you learn to appreciate it because it’s a process to get here. I’m bless to be in this situation. It’s my coaches who continue to drive us and coach us. I’m old. I sit in the back and they do all the work.”
But did it ever cross his mind that he might never get another one of those baths?
“Never,” he said. “Winning and losing – it doesn’t define me, my kids or my program and it never will. I’m not going to go down that road. I won’t be defined by one game here or there. We lost some tough ones like last year, and Skyline. But the sun comes up and you learn from it and it builds your character.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677